Can de facto governance influence deforestation drivers in the Zambian Miombo?
Weak forest governance is posited as a key underlying driver of deforestation and forest degradation, but empirical evidence of this linkage is scarce. Many related studies capture the de jure (legal) conditions and miss the de facto (implementation practices on the ground), particularly when considering the proximate drivers and other factors of deforestation. However, this is central for identifying the specifics of governance for curbing deforestation and forest degradation. We analyse the influence of de facto governance quality on deforestation, accounting for proximate drivers and other factors using stepwise regression. We further compare deforestation rates and drivers across different governance arrangements with differing institutions, tenure and forest acces restrictions using Wilcoxon tests to derive conclusions for promising policy instruments that address deforestation. Data for the analysis were obtained through participatory mapping, focus group discussions and geographical information systems. To generate empirical evidence, 238,296 ha of land were mapped within 24 communities spanning three provinces, Copperbelt, North-Western and Eastern, in the Zambian Miombo. Regression results revealed that de facto governance quality has some effect but proximate drivers particularly charcoal production, crop agriculture and proximity to roads explain most of the deforestation patterns in the Zambian Miombo. Those drivers seem hardly affected by the weak governance processes. Since scores of governance quality were in general low and hardly varying, we conclude that in our case they were too weak to show effects on the proximate drivers. Only the governance indicator ‘local government capacity and effectiveness’ although still weak, was significantly linked to low deforestation rates. Comparative results further showed that restricted arrangements (state and traditionally restricted) exhibit lower deforestation than nonrestricted arrangements (communal, forests with overlapping community claims, private and individual customary forests). But while crop agriculture was negligible, forest resource extraction was still substantial in restricted state forests, indicating a higher possibility for forest degradation instead. Although private and individual customary forests had higher tenure security, they showed higher deforestation rates than communal and state arrangements. This challenges the notion that tenure security alone guarantees successful forest conservation. Our results suggest that governance can only affect deforestation drivers positively above certain thresholds. This needs to be further complemented by specific measures such as sustainable production systems, incentives and alternative livelihoods to regulate the proximate and other underlying drivers of deforestation.